Thu Feb 1 2007
Photograph: Carol Rosegg
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
If director Scott Elliott and writer-performer Wallace Shawn were to literalize the message of The Fever, they would drench Derek McLane’s set—a cozy urban apartment—in blood. The bookshelf, stuffed with fat volumes about Dostoyevsky and Da Vinci, would be spattered with viscera and brain matter. The leather chair that Shawn occupies for most of his hallucinatory 100-minute monologue would squirt gore with every shift of his buttocks. And the glass that he lifts to his lips would be filled with anything but red wine.
The Fever, which Shawn performed in friends’ living rooms in the 1990s, is one man’s political awakening to a global humanitarian tragedy. A narrator, called the Traveler, is holed up in a foreign hotel as a civil war rages outside. Gravely ill in his bathroom, he vomits into the toilet bowl, studies the roaches scuttling around him and begins to meditate on his life of privilege and the miserable place his growing existential nausea and materialist guilt led him. In some sections of the writing, the speaker seems to be a political prisoner in a cell who’s tortured and spat upon. In others, he logically defends his sophisticated, consumerist lifestyle and explains how murder and rape are necessary to keep the poor in line.
The conclusion is broad but provocative: Our culture is possible only through the death and suffering of millions of poor people. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, despite the artfulness and humor with which Shawn serves it up. What he won’t do is wipe the blood from it. — David Cote